Thursday, 28 April 2005
Order of Business.
It is proposed to take No. 16, Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse (Amendment) Bill 2005 — Second Stage (resumed); No. 17, Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill 2004 — Second Stage (resumed); and No. 1, Veterinary Practice Bill 2004 — Second Stage. It is also proposed, notwithstanding anything in Standing Orders, that the Dáil, on its rising today, shall adjourn until 2.30 p.m. on Wednesday, 4 May 2005.
I thought for a moment that the entire Government had gone to Spain to discuss the Irish language. However, the Minister for Defence, Deputy O'Dea, has arrived to accompany the Minister for Finance.
The European Commission presented a Green Paper on the harmonisation of divorce legislation. Has the Government given this any consideration? Will it entail changes contradictory to the terms for which Irish people voted, namely, a four-year separation?
The Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2004 was on the Government C list of legislation last autumn, but has since been removed. Does the Government intend to proceed with the Bill or will it appear in another form?
Considerable concern is being expressed within the business community with regard to expenditure on infrastructure over the next 20 years. There is strong criticism regarding the delay of many major projects because of the need to refer those in excess of €20 million to the National Development Finance Agency. The agency does not have the capacity or resources to assess all referrals.
I queried the Taoiseach yesterday regarding three sections of the Children Act 2001 and he said he would find the information. Perhaps the Minister for Finance would inquire as to why section 96, which deals with the principles relating to the exercise of criminal jurisdiction over children, has not been commenced.
Regarding the Deputy's first question about the Green Paper, the treaty provisions governing judicial co-operation in civil law matters provide that Ireland has an opt-in to measures in this area either when a proposal is tabled or following its adoption. If the Commission were to come forward with proposals arising from the Green Paper, which is by no means certain, Ireland would have a choice whether to opt in to the measure. Ireland is not bound by any measure to which it does not opt in. Our entitlement to opt in to civil law measures is preserved by protocol 19 of the new constitutional treaty which was negotiated during our EU Presidency. Similarly, decision-making by unanimity is retained for the purposes of family law matters. In respect of any issue that might arise, the Government's starting point will be that any measures taken in this area will not be allowed to undermine our domestic law on divorce.
The Dormant Accounts (Amendment) Bill 2004 is no longer on the list because provisions envisaged for this Bill will be incorporated in the financial services consolidation Bill.
The Leader of the Opposition may or not be aware that I recently revised the guidelines regarding appraisal of capital projects and I refer him to the details in respect of the role the National Development Finance Agency will now play with regard to the relative size of projects. In many cases, matters are not held up because of any delay in the NDFA. Environmental and other issues also come into play.
Regarding section 96 of the Children Act, I will refer back to the Deputy when I have spoken to the Minister.
As a former Minister for Health and Children, the Minister for Finance is probably more aware and better informed about the crisis in accident and emergency services than the Taoiseach. He probably read the briefing and listened to advice regarding what was happening in the health service unlike the former Minister, Deputy Martin.
As a Whip, Deputy Stagg has a major contribution to make to Dáil reform. If he believes the Order of Business should be an omnibus question time and gets the agreement of the House, the Chair would be absolutely delighted to implement it.
The coroners Bill is due next year. Placing the health information and quality authority and the Irish social services inspectorate on a statutory basis is envisaged in the enactment of the Health Bill 2005. The publication date is this year. I cannot give the exact time. I am sure the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children would be able to give more detailed information on the matter if the Deputy tabled a parliamentary question.
As regards the matter generally, the full co-operation of everybody in the acute hospital services is required to deal with the current issues. Dealing with the problem involves not simply trying to improve capacity in accident and emergency departments, but also involves co-operation from consultants throughout the hospitals particularly regarding elective surgery. It is also a question of allowing people to move through the hospital if necessary rather than being left in the accident and emergency departments.
The question cannot simply be dealt with on the basis of adding to the status quo, but by reorganising the service within the acute hospital system. This requires not simply the commitment of more resources, which are envisaged by the Government in the package announced by the Tánaiste to be implemented this year, it requires the full co-operation of everybody in the acute hospital system, including consultants. Regarding the accident and emergency department as in some way separate from the rest of a hospital is not a means by which these matters can be resolved. In many parts of the health service this problem is not as acute as it is in some hospitals. There are reasons why problems exist in those hospitals——
——which include the requirement in some instances to improve capacity in accident and emergency departments, but also the requirement for co-operation from everyone else in such hospitals to ensure that priority is given to the resolution of the problem, which is how it will be resolved. All of us in this House should encourage management and staff to engage in that exercise in the interests of patients being dealt with in a better way than is the case in some hospitals at present. That is the solution to the problem.
I note the Minister was given ample time to answer a question, which I really did not ask. He stressed co-operation many times. What about his co-operation to ensure that the public capital programme is started to meet the needs for additional capacity? No matter how hard the nurses and doctors work, without beds they cannot deal with the crisis.
It is most unfortunate — it seems this will be the case from here to eternity — that when we have a problem in the health service, people simply point the finger at the Minister for Finance or the Minister for Health and Children. The resources that are being applied to this area——
The benefit is that in the past five or six years we have been in a position to put in place a capital programme, which was not the case previously when we essentially had a maintenance programme. We came into office with a capital programme which, based on the total assets employed in the health service, represented approximately 2% of the capital employed. That is a maintenance programme and not a capital programme. That is what we inherited.
Our health system, including the acute hospitals, is undergoing unprecedented modernisation. I could name all those ongoing projects. People called for a reorganisation and we have established the Health Service Executive, which should be fully operational by the end of May. This is a remarkable achievement considering the extent of reorganisation involved.
We now have a central executive responsible for all acute hospital services in the country rather than being dissipated throughout the health board system. That public capital programme continues.
It is unprecedented in the history of the State. It is ludicrous to suggest this Minister and my predecessor have not provided resources, which far outstrip those allocated by any previous Government.
When those Opposition Deputies were in the Department of Health, they did not know what their capital allocation would be from one year to the next, which is why we had such a disjointed approach to capital programmes.
My predecessor changed the system and unprecedented resources are being given to those hospitals. The problems articulated this morning will be dealt with in the context of the rollout of that programme.
We need to move on. I appeal to the Minister and Deputies to stay within Standing Orders. As the Minister gave a long reply to a question, which was not within Standing Orders, the Chair allowed Deputy McManus to speak a second time. We will not debate this matter all morning. I call Deputy Sargent.
There is probably potential for Leaders' Questions on Thursdays after all. If possible, can I deal with promised legislation and also the prospect of a debate? Given the proceedings of the Committee of Public Accounts meeting held yesterday, is the Minister amenable to a debate as Minister for Finance, given the serious overrun in costs that has been highlighted by the committee such as a doubling of costs in the building of a kilometre of road from 2000 to 2003?
I am asking whether a debate can be arranged and whether the Minister would be amenable to it. The question on the promised legislation arises from a meeting yesterday of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Environment and Local Government at which the directives contained, or at least referred to in the building control Bill were discovered by the Department. A derogation will be sought until 2009 rather than January 2006.
The building control Bill is expected to be enacted later this year and will incorporate the matter mentioned by the Deputy and will implement EU Directive 2002/91/EC on the energy performance of buildings.
The Minister is aware that road safety is very much in the news and we are currently debating the Driver Testing and Standards Authority Bill. It is on Second Stage in the House and it was revealed in the newspapers yesterday that a Government-commissioned report on the suitability of this agency actually recommends that it be abandoned as it is wholly inadequate and inappropriate to meet its wider road safety objective. What is the status of the Bill? Will it be withdrawn?
The legislation is due to be enacted next year. The Garda vote has been increased by 90% since this Government came into office. It now totals €1.1 billion. It is a matter for Garda management to deal with that budget.
What is the status of the Third Level Student Support Bill, No. 41 on the Government's legislative programme? Its publication is not listed and it is not possible to indicate a date at this stage. It is a Bill to place all student support schemes on a statutory footing. Given that it is unlikely that this Bill will be in place for the academic year starting in September 2005, can the Minister give any indication that the Third Level Student Support Bill will be published and processed by this House in time for the academic year starting in 2006?
There are discussions taking place between the Department and all the stakeholders. The Bill is envisaged to place all student support schemes on a statutory footing, including the designation of an appropriate awarding authority and to repeal the Local Authorities (Higher Education Grants) Acts 1968 to 1992.
I want to pursue the issue raised by Deputy Olivia Mitchell regarding the Minister for Transport who appears to be found wanting regarding a Bill he has before the House. What is happening to the other Bills? In May 2003, we were told the critical infrastructure Bill, the transport reform Bill and the transport companies Bill would be published in 2004 as would legislation pertaining to the whole Dublin transport issue. Two years later, not one of those Bills has been published. All three of them are not promised until 2006 and an indicative publication date cannot even be given for the other issue. What is happening in the Department of Transport?
Anyone with a cursory knowledge of the progress made by the National Roads Authority and others knows that the Department of Transport is making unprecedented progress in rolling out the national development plan which, according to the ESRI's mid-term evaluation, is providing a return of up to 16% on the investment.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for this opportunity. Is it proposed to amend the Health Act 2004? I will state the reason for the question. In the first instance, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and then yesterday evening, the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, stated in the Dáil that the Health Service Executive has the responsibility, whereas the executive states that it has not been provided with the funding.
The Health Act 2004 which was brought into force in January. The Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children and then yesterday evening the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Tim O'Malley, are on record as stating in this House that the Health Service Executive has responsibility to provide and deliver the services. However, the executive has stated it is not provided with the funding and is waiting for it.
The Opposition berated me when I stuck rigidly to the Order of Business on an earlier occasion in the House. I come in to the House in good form on the third day of the Irish National Hunt Festival at Punchestown and I get a hard time from the Opposition. It is unbelievable; I cannot win.
I understand the Bill will brought forward and enacted next year and that the heads of the Bill are expected shortly. A document entitled "Regulating Better" informs Government policy. Perhaps at his next front bench meeting, Deputy Hogan might ask his colleagues to desist from seeking to set up more agencies and seeking more accountability and red tape so that we can possibly have a coherent exercise in all of this.